One summer back in my student days I did two dangerous jobs simultaneously — one in a large scrap metal operation and the other in an aircraft plant.  One day when I took off to apply for a fellowship, my replacement at the aircraft plant was killed when two racing fork trucks smashed him.  In the scrap metal plant an older worker and I had a metal barrel being hoisted by crane which we had just filled with metal parts break loose and smash six inches into the ground between us.

In the old days prior to the introduction of workmen’s compensation laws — first in Wisconsin in this country in 1911 — any injured or killed on a job had to prove that they were not negligent or in any way at fault for their injuries or deaths for they or their families to collect any compensation from their employers.  The decks were usually stacked, so that it was virtually impossible to collect compensation.

However, the significant feature of workmen’s compensation laws is that fault need not be proved and any injured when working for an employer is entitled to compensation automatically which then kicks back into increased rates for the employer.

Needless to say employers have made great efforts to avoid unnecessary injuries to their employees.  One of the rules at the aircraft plant was that no worker was permitted to lift more than 30 pounds in weight — to avoid back injuries which are a common feature of heavy laboring jobs.  At the scrap metal operation we were obliged to have protective vaccinations.

Some of the 9/11 clean up workers have been able to collect compensation for the damage to their lungs done on the “pile” (Trade Center site) during the clean up.  As these injuries were not determined within a year (the ordinary cut off for claims after an injury), the NY State legislature was obliged to extend this cut off date — which it did at the insistence of a NYC deputy mayor so injured.

If one looks around at other dangerous substances and practices in the United States, one often discovers no comparable compensation protections — against drug side effects, pollution of the atmosphere, faulty food production, and a host of other harms that are emerging in our modern world, e.g. recent reports of pollution in the fish production in China from which we derive 70% of the fish we eat. Our public agencies have become quite lax in maintaining protective regulations, driving people injured to costly and time consuming lawsuits.

Needless to say, if not terribly generous, workmen’s compensation is still a form of property that extends beyond the mere ownership of things.  A short history here from Wiki:’_compensation#History

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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